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Uyghur Diaoyang Horsemanship Competition

Diaoyang(叼羊), literally means “competing to grab the sheep on horseback”, is a lesser-known, yet extremely interesting, highly competitive and intense sport favored by the Uyghur people. It is usually held during festivals occurring in Autumn.

A famous proverb highlights the essence of this entertainment: “wrestling is a touchstone of a man’s strength, while Diaoyang is a benchmark for a man’s courage.” As we know, Xinjiang is a fantastic juxtaposition of sublime natural beauty and harsh environment. From north to south, three east-west mighty mountain ranges: Altai, Kunlun and Tianshan run parallel to each other and embrace two acrid desert , which are unfortunately the farthest from sea. Tarim Basin, the biggest moving sand desert in China and the second largest on earth, is synonymous with land of death. Thanks to the life-giving meting glacier water from these mountains, inflow rivers spring into being and nurture clusters of oasis. For the nomadic Uyghur people, life in this harsh land means move from an oasis to another frequently. To survive the harsh environment and hostile climate, they consider excellent horsemanship as a top priority. Incorporating horsemanship, teamwork, courage and wisdom, Diaoyang is not only an effective way to train and select excellent riders, but also surprises the outsiders as an exceptionally interesting entertainment.
uyghur diaoyang horsemanship competition

Uyghur people, famous for a superabundance of animal spirits and spiritual curiosity, left over the days when they have been obliged to fight or perish. Except for the fleeting summer, they have to battle against adverse climate such as snowstorm and predators like wolves to protect their cattle or horses going astray. Not surprisingly, top Diaoyang performers are revered as heroes.

Competition Rules

Diaoyang game can be carried between two people, or two teams consisting of around 10 participants each, or even among a big crowd numbering from dozens to thousands of people. To win the game, one is expected to grab the goat and place it at a designated destination on horseback, this usually turns out to be a time-consuming and energy-sapping struggle, for one has to cope with constant besiege, attacks and rob from the rival(s). The winner is expected to grill the lamb on the spot, and invite other riders to share it, in accordance with the local customs.
uyghur diaoyang horsemanship competition

This game also features intricate practices: special attention has been paid to the selection of goat, generally speaking, a two-year-old goat is considered as the most ideal trophy. This unlucky animal will be beheaded, get rid of the claws and feed with several bottles of water till its stomach blow up like a balloon. The reason behind this behavior is that goat will not be torn into pieces during the game.

In some sense, Diaoyang is the counterpart of European football, the only difference is that the former is performed on horseback and the trilogy is a goat.
uyghur diaoyang horsemanship competition

One of the most fantastic things about this game is that it is full of suspense. When one brave man gets the goat, dozens of riders will run after him closely and try to besiege him desperately. They sweep away the grassland from one place to the other like tornado. The game can last several hours. It is so close and intense, exciting and thrilling that one will never know who will be the ultimate winner until the last minute, which explains the enduring charm and magic of this game.
uyghur diaoyang horsemanship competition
uyghur diaoyang horsemanship competition
Author: Sophia        Posted on Sep 12, 2013


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